Unplugging to Recharge
A few weeks ago, I did the unthinkable. I slept in until 8 a.m.
To be fair, I’d woken up in a rush of anxiety around 2:30 a.m.—worried about deliverables, deadlines, upcoming events, emails left unanswered in my inbox—and didn’t fall back asleep until close to 4. My body clearly needed the extra rest. Almost as much as my brain.
The thing is, I was two days away from going on vacation—a weeklong stay in a rustic cabin in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I should’ve been lulling myself to sleep with images of hiking along mountain trails and reading books on the deck. I should’ve been calm. But I wasn’t. I was wired.
I don’t do well with vacations. I never have. Even when I try to unplug, I find myself checking my phone every five minutes; responding to emails that seem urgent (they aren’t); taking calls I know I don’t have to take; and generally fretting over the piles of work that await me. Most of the time, I come back feeling more restless than when I left.
Later that day, I had a kind of mini epiphany, one that helped put me in the right frame of mind for my long-overdue vacation.
It’s been three years since I first joined the SHPE Familia (I still can’t believe it). In that time, our organization has made incredible strides: a near-40% increase in membership (we’re fast approaching 14,000); record Convention attendance (we’re closing in on 10,000); more dynamic outreach and cutting-edge programming—the list goes on. Despite the challenges posed by COVID, and the economic turmoil it created, SHPE is alive and kicking and still going strong.
But in my moment of reflection, the thing I felt most thankful for couldn’t be measured in numbers alone. Rather, it’s the team we’ve built—the processes we’ve put in place; the collaboration we’ve cultivated; and the trust we’ve fostered—that put my mind at ease.
I knew I’d still be coming back to a thousand and one emails. That comes with the CEO territory. But I also knew I wouldn’t have to worry about things slipping through the cracks: corporate communications, social-media posts, NILA and National Convention planning logistics and so on. When I came back, SHPE would still be there, as strong and capable as it was when I left. I slept a lot better that night—and woke up the next morning rested, refreshed and ready to go at my usual time (4:45 a.m.).
During my weeklong hiatus, I did my best to not think about work, save for the two 30-minute blocks each day where I did in fact check my email (hey, I tried). And you know what? I felt a lot more at ease than I ever have in the past. I actually *enjoyed* my vacation. Novel concept, right?
Throughout the week, I also reflected a lot on what it means to really unplug in 2020. Since early March, tens of millions of Americans have been forced to work remotely. We’re on our computers from dawn till dusk. We’re texting and posting constantly. When we’re ready to unwind, we queue up Netflix or Amazon Prime. Now more than ever, our entire existence revolves around screens. It might be necessary—but it’s certainly not healthy. And it’s a far cry from what I’m used to.
Back when I was a lawyer, we talked a lot about the importance of facetime (no, not the app). Being with your colleagues, in the same physical space, was viewed as essential. When I came to SHPE, I brought that perspective with me. On those rare pre-COVID occasions when I wasn’t traveling to multiple cities per week, every week, for weeks on end, I loved being in the office and working shoulder to shoulder with my team: breaking bread, telling jokes and remembering why it is we love working with one another—and being part of this incredible just cause (SHPE). With the pandemic, we had no choice but to pivot and to go 100% remote. Ever since, I’ve missed having that facetime with my team. I can’t wait until we’re all together again.
With virtual facetime, and all these Zoom meetings, I can’t help but feel a sense of invasiveness. People are *literally* staring into my home. It’s a little stressful—and often exhausting. The other day, I asked someone from my team if we could start scheduling some actual phone calls, rather than all webcam meetings. (And I’m not a phone person!) When you long for the days of holding a phone to your ear—that’s when you know you have screen fatigue.
Which is why it was so important to take a week to reboot and recharge. I can’t tell you how invigorating it felt to breathe fresh air and read a book. To go a whole week without turning on my laptop camera, scrolling through emails in bed or “unwinding” with a Netflix show.
I know I’m lucky. Not everyone gets to take vacation. But we all can unplug—even if it’s just for a few hours a day. To take a break from TV and read a book, or bake some bread, or tackle that long-neglected house project. It might not seem like you’re doing anything revolutionary. But those chunks of time add up.
I know unplugging is a hard thing to do right now. You’re worried you’ll miss something. That your team or company or family will suffer. But I promise you: They’ll be fine. Whether you’re unplugging for a week or an hour a day, everything will still be there when you get back. The thing that will change the most is you: refreshed, recharged, more balanced and ready to tackle what’s ahead.
Remember: The most valuable tools you own aren’t your iPhone, laptop, Zoom account and Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s your mind, body, and spirit. So, take care of them. Honor them. And know that you don’t need a cord or an outlet to recharge the batteries. Chances are, all you need is a little time for yourself—and maybe a few more hours of sleep.
Raquel Tamez, SHPE CEO